Monica Bunner finds meaning, adventure, and fuel for the soul as a Red Cross volunteer

By Tim Poe, American Red Cross volunteer

A truck navigates through areas devastated by Hurricane Ian, some previously inaccessible, arriving at a Florida camp. People of all ages and backgrounds wait, others emerge from their homes. Many are migrant workers. American Red Cross personnel, among them Monica Bunner, had worked with community members to ensure those here, like all who needed aid, receive it.

Monica Bunner, American Red Cross volunteer, in Florida after Hurricane Ian

As Monica opens the truck’s doors to distribute supplies from the Red Cross and partner organizations, she notes people’s expressions. Faces convey the realization they have not been forgotten; that people care. Monica describes the feeling as what Red Cross founder Clara Barton must have experienced caring for soldiers—, as fuel for the soul.

This was during Monica Bunner’s third deployment of 2022; her second to Florida after Hurricane Ian. She estimates she has deployed around 20 times since joining the Red Cross in 2017. Based in the Greater Akron and the Mahoning Valley chapter, she also serves in several capacities here in Northern Ohio.

I am often awed by the dedication, caring, competence, and experience of fellow Red Cross volunteers and staff. I recently spoke with Monica, who brings a lifetime of volunteerism, caring, and dedication to her work with the Red Cross.

Monica has volunteered throughout her life. Even before joining the Red Cross, her activities included helping people in women’s shelters, caring for animals, working with national organizations, and serving on local zoning boards. Her work helping animals is what brought her to the Red Cross.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, Monica was deployed with an animal welfare organization where she worked alongside Red Cross volunteers and decided to join.

Monica Bunner, Red Cross volunteer

Monica has since helped a tremendous number of people in many roles, including the three 2022 deployments. The first was to Puerto Rico in a disaster technology capacity role, where she assisted with flooding and helped prepare for the upcoming hurricane season.

Shortly after Ian, Monica deployed to Florida to supervise family reunification efforts. She spoke of the intensity of helping families reach loved ones, many of whom had medical issues. As several areas were not reachable, she worked with search and rescue personnel, a realtor, and others to help locate people. Monica described connecting the dots and reunifying a family as elating and sharing in the joy.

After taking a short break to celebrate her 32nd wedding anniversary, Monica returned to Florida and worked with community partnerships and engagement, particularly with Latino communities, as she is bilingual. She, her team, and partner organizations worked to reach those in need who may not have realized assistance was available. This deployment was when she brought supplies to the camp.

Monica said adventure has always been part of her approach to life, as well as a love of learning, and the Red Cross offers both. She said her Red Cross work is an opportunity to go out and do good with like-minded and like-hearted people. It also offers the ability to align belief with actions and fuel the soul.

For those interested in volunteering, Monica pointed out there are opportunities for all ages and backgrounds, but to be flexible as each deployment is different, and to “Go for it!” Visit redcross.org/volunteertoday to learn more.

Edited by Glenda Bogar, Red Cross volunteer

Posted by Ryan Lang, Red Cross board member and volunteer

Northern Ohio volunteer delivered supplies and hope in the wake of Hurricane Ian

By Michael deVulpillieres, American Red Cross

Destruction was everywhere as a large truck with an American Red Cross logo taped to its side made its way slowly through Coastal Estates, a small Fort Myers neighborhood lined with single family homes, most either wiped out entirely or badly damaged by Hurricane Ian.

On one side of the street, a stray cat wandered inside a blown-out manufactured home. A few doors down, the driver paused at the sight of a metal roof wrapped around a palm tree.

“Within 30 minutes, we had five feet of water here,” Reba Fennessy told Red Cross volunteers Lisa Mize and David Tolander. “It was so scary.”

American Red Cross volunteers David Tolander of Iowa and Lisa Mize of Huron, Ohio deliver relief supplies to a small neighborhood in Fort Myers, Florida, hit hard by Hurricane Ian. Photo credit: Michael deVulpillieres, American Red Cross

Mize, who is from Huron, Ohio, and Tolander, from Waterloo, Iowa, first met a week earlier after arriving in Southwest Florida to be part of the hurricane relief efforts. They were assigned to deliver supplies together in some of the hardest hit parts of the state.

Their presence meant more than the much-needed free relief items like tarps, bins, brooms, rakes, batteries, bleach and trash bags that filled their truck. Mize and Tolander also represented the reassurance that help would continue to be available as long as needed.

“We’re here where the Gulf (of Mexico) meets the Bay (of the Caloosahatchee River), so we got a double whammy,” Catherine Casby said. The storm surge, pushed by 160-mile-an-hour winds, destroyed so many of the homes around hers. Though damaged, her small house is still standing.

Catherine Casby, a resident of Fort Myers, Fla., hit hard by Hurricane Ian, speaks with Red Cross volunteer Lisa Mize. Photo Credit: Michael deVulpillieres, American Red Cross

Casby spends her days clearing debris, cleaning up inside, and keeping an eye on her neighbors. “We look after each other,” she said of her tight-knit community. In fact, the night Ian made landfall, Casby braved the winds and flood waters to check on residents next door, injuring her leg in the process.

While Mize, who works as a nurse back home, was handing out supplies, she asked Casby about her noticeable limp. Casby said she spent a few days in the hospital after the storm and is slowly recovering.

“That’s the hardest part, the stories,” Mize said of the physical and emotional scars left by Ian. Yet during her Red Cross deployment, Mize has learned how to “laugh and smile, even in the worst of it.” Her positive disposition and sense of humor lifted the spirits of those around her.

“The people are so appreciative of seeing anyone here,” Tolander said. “Many told us the Red Cross was the first and only people they’ve seen (helping).”

Fennessy recalled how, a week after landfall, the Red Cross was in Coastal Estates providing warm meals. “It made us feel that someone cared,” she said, her voice breaking up with emotion.

Before accepting some cleanup supplies from the truck, Fennessy looked up at Mize in the back of the vehicle and said, “If I could come up there, I’d give you a hug.” Mize promptly climbed down to share an embrace.

Despite having just met a week earlier, Mize and Tolander talked and joked as if they’d known each other for years. There was a seamlessness about the way they worked together.

“We’ve clicked really well,” said Mize, who recently joined the Red Cross. “This is my first deployment. But Dave has been on a lot, so he’s taught me quite a bit.” She paused. “He taught me that it’s OK to cry sometimes.”

American Red Cross relief is free to anyone with disaster-caused needs, thanks to the generosity of the American people. To become a trained disaster volunteer, like Mize and Tolander, go to redcross.org/volunteer or call 1-800-REDCROSS.

If you would like to support the Hurricane Ian response financially, visit redcross.org or CruzRojaAmericana.org, text the words IAN to 90999 to make a $10 donation, or call 1-800-HELP NOW.

Edited by Eilene Guy, American Red Cross volunteer
Posted by Ryan Lang, American Red Cross board member and volunteer

Former NEO Board member now volunteering in Florida to help neighbors deal with Hurricane Ian aftermath

By Betty Adams, American Red Cross volunteer

After learning that most of his Fort Myers-area neighbors were safe following the storm surge from Hurricane Ian, Brad Roller, a recent transplant from Cleveland, wanted to help the American Red Cross help others wherever he could.

Former Northeast Ohio Chapter board member Brad Roller. Photo Credit: Selena Hardy, American Red Cross
Former Northeast Ohio Chapter board member Brad Roller. Photo Credit: Selena Hardy, American Red Cross

So he signed up as what the Red Cross calls an event-based volunteer, and immediately found himself with a Red Cross feeding team in a vehicle packed with hot food for people in the hard-hit region.

“Today’s my first day on the job,” Roller said. “I’ve never done feeding before, but I’m a very experienced eater.”

“He’s going to be great,” said Katherine Reilly, one of the two regular feeding team volunteers, as they finished securing insulated food containers, water and snacks in the vehicle.

“He’s going to see a lot of people in one of the most devastated areas of Fort Myers,” his new teammate, Travis Lindsay, said. “We’re going to Fort Myers Beach and a lot of folks there are grateful we’re there helping them.

“There’s no other source of food on that island other than us and the World Kitchen. So we’ll be meetin’ and greetin’ those folks and giving them food so they can back to cleaning up their houses.”

Back in Northeast Ohio, Roller was a Red Cross disaster action team member for years as well as a Northeast Ohio Chapter board member. Now living much farther south, he and his family had minimal damage from the storm. “I’ve seen the devastation on TV, and my motivation is to help where I can help,” he said.

Ft. Myers Beach after Hurricane Ida

Roller and his family had prepared for the hurricane. “I sat looking out my sliding glass doors watching things blowing all over the place. We were enough inland that we didn’t feel too threatened, but we were prepared to go into a safe room if our 160-mile-an-hour glass didn’t hold. Fortunately, everything did, and we just had minor damage, but it was pretty ferocious.”

Roller was one of six event-based volunteers scheduled of help with mobile feeding the day he joined the relief effort. The Red Cross welcomes spontaneous local volunteers, who receive a background screening and abbreviated training for tasks across the operation to help those still working to recover from historic wind and water damage across Florida.

To become a trained disaster volunteer, go to redcross.org/volunteer or call 1-800-REDCROSS.

American Red Cross relief is free to anyone with disaster-caused needs, thanks to the generosity of the American people. If you would like to support the Hurricane Ian response financially, visit redcross.org or CruzRojaAmericana.org, text the words IAN to 90999 to make a $10 donation, or call 1-800-HELP NOW.

Northern Ohio volunteer helps reunite families separated by Hurricane Ian

By Diane Weber, American Red Cross volunteer

“Hello. Red Cross? I can’t reach my parents!” 

The call comes in, and Monica Bunner of Medina and the American Red Cross Reunification Team get to work. They begin with an interview of the missing person’s family. Where do the missing persons live? When did you last hear from them? More questions follow:  Do they know their neighbors?  Do they attend a house of worship? Are they part of an organization such as Knights of Columbus? Are there places they like to frequent?  

Monica Bunner, Red Cross volunteer, Reunification Regional Program Lead

In this case, the parents had recently bought a home in Rotonda West, a golf community on the coast in central Florida. The son did not know the neighbors’ names, and a call to the golf clubhouse did not yield a connection. But Monica and her colleague, Tammy Miner of Maysville, Washington spotted a lead in their interview – the missing couple had just bought a home. A search of public records yielded the name of the realtor. On a hunch that the realtor lived in the area or perhaps remained in contact with the couple, Monica called the realtor. The realtor not only lived within driving distance, but he was also willing to drive to the couple’s home.  

The realtor reported that the couple were doing well but had no electricity or cell service to contact the family. The couple drove to a nearby town and reconnected with a very relieved son. 

Such is the daily experience for reunification workers Monica. Most of these requests are resolved with just a few phone calls.  

She explained the process: 

  • Calls for reunification assistance are typically initiated through the 1-800-RED CROSS portal, although some requests come from people who see the reunification team working in the field and tell them of their own missing persons. 
     
  • The requests are then vetted according to urgency, with priority going to people with medical issues or physical or mental disabilities or veterans. Unaccompanied minors are given immediate priority, as are requests from immediate family members. Friends searching for friends or work acquaintances are coached with suggestions for their own searches.  
     
October 7, 2022. Punta Gorda, Florida. Red Cross disaster relief worker Lynette Nyman gets a hug from darling Ava who evacuated to her grandmother’s home to be safe from Hurricane Ian. Photo by Marko Kokic/American Red Cross
  • If the reunification team decides to open a case for the missing person, more information is gathered, such as the physical appearance of the person and why that person decided to remain in the area and not evacuate. 

    “That information helps us to understand the missing person more fully,” explained Monica. “We find out if the person is afraid to venture out into crowds or if they refused to leave their pets, for example. That will help us in our search for them.” 
  • The reunification team then presses for more information. Is the missing person part of an organization such as Knights of Columbus or American Legion? Does he/she have a favorite site to visit, such as a library or museum or even a favorite store or restaurant? Is he active on social media?  
     
  • If none of the telephone detective work yields the whereabouts of the missing person, the Reunification Field Team heads out to the neighborhood, first to the address of the missing person and then canvasing the neighbors, churches, organizations, and local shelters.  
October 11, 2022. Ft. Myers Beach, Florida. Red Cross volunteers drive through some of the areas in Fort Myers Beach, FL, that were hit hardest by Hurricane Ian’s devastating winds and storm surge. They took their emergency response vehicle into the community to deliver hot meals to residents who have only just begun their cleanup efforts since being let back on the island on Sunday. Photo by Scott Dalton/American Red Cross

Last week, a missing grandmother was located in a Florida shelter. 

“I’m well and happy as a clam,” she told her family when she was found. “I’m sitting in a shelter. I’m well fed, and I’m watching TV with my friends.”  

Another successful case for the reunification team. 

“It is addictive,” cautioned Monica. “When you’re able to tell the family that you have found their family member safe and sound and see the relief on their faces, it is worth all the effort to find them.” 

Edited by: Jim McIntyre, Red Cross Regional Communications Director

Needed: Health and Mental Health Professionals to Volunteer

By Eilene E. Guy, American Red Cross Volunteer

Home fires, floods, hurricanes, wildfires. When American Red Cross volunteers respond to these disasters, they offer shelter, food and compassion — as well as health and mental health attention.

The public generally doesn’t see the health and mental health services. For the most part, they don’t show up in coverage of urgent disaster responses. But they’re critical in the first hours and days of helping victims cope with their new reality.

Lost medications, destroyed medical equipment, missed doctor’s appointments, emerging conditions such as COVID or the flu. These are all pressing needs that trained medical professionals know how to meet. And they can administer first aid for victims as well as disaster workers.

Meanwhile, licensed mental health professionals address the emotional side of a disaster, triaging who needs a few sessions with a skilled listener and who needs to be referred to local mental health resources for extended care.

Faced with an almost unprecedented number of natural and human-caused disasters, the Red Cross has launched a targeted recruitment drive: Be One, Bring One. The goal is to enlist volunteers from the medical and mental health fields. Trisha Horvath, RN MSN, from Kirtland, Ohio, is one of the leaders of this drive.

Trisha Horvath, Red Cross Volunteer, RN MSN, from Kirtland, Ohio

“I think all nurses are humanitarians,” Trisha said. “That’s why they do what they do, to alleviate suffering.”

The reality is, the vast majority of licensed medical and mental health professionals don’t have flexibility in their work schedules to volunteer for disaster response, much as they might like to, she said.

So Trisha is helping the Red Cross “think outside the box.” They’re emphasizing the opportunities for virtual “deployments” and the rewards to volunteers in the form of resilience training and CEUs — not to mention the personal satisfaction of helping people in their most vulnerable situations.

The Red Cross is approaching graduate school students and faculty as well as non-traditional workplaces where health and mental health professionals are found, such as insurance companies. Many of these folks already work virtually, so they know how to engage with people remotely.

Gail Wernick, the Red Cross Northern Ohio regional volunteer services officer, emphasizes that volunteer shift scheduling is flexible for on-call and scheduled commitments. Typically, volunteers are expected to be available, as needed, for two weeks every three months.

Gail Wernick, Red Cross Northern Ohio Regional Volunteer Services Officer

Gail’s goal is to have a roster of 21 trained disaster health volunteers with active and unencumbered licenses: RNs, LPNs, Licensed Vocational Nurses, Nurse Practitioners, Advance Practice Nurses, Medical Doctors, Doctors of Osteopathy or Physician Assistants. Tap here for more information or to apply.

Trisha is particularly concerned about what she calls the “dearth of mental health volunteers.” There are currently half of the goal of 17 such volunteers on the Northern Ohio team.

The Be One, Bring One campaign is aimed at currently licensed mental health professionals holding a master’s degree as well as retired mental health professionals who were in good standing when they retired and held a license within five years of onboarding as a Disaster Mental Health volunteer. Tap here for more information and to apply.

“We really appreciate the generosity of our health services and mental health volunteers. Needless to say, when people are struggling to cope with a disaster — – anything from a home fire to a flood or tornado — – immediate health and mental health support can be just as essential as food and shelter,” said Barb Thomas, Northern Ohio regional recovery manager for the Red Cross.

If you’re someone who’d like to help turn tragedy into hope in a rewarding opportunity to share your time and talents, visit redcross.org/volunteer to explore the wide variety of roles you can play, at home or away. And thank you!

Volunteers show their versatility and willingness to help

Northern Ohio disaster workers in Kentucky assist at the scene of a car crash

Arden Tohill and Al Irwin are volunteers who responded to the call for help from the people of Eastern Kentucky, after devastating flooding there in late July. Among the first to deploy to the devastated region, they have been driving an emergency response vehicle through “the hills and hollers of Eastern Kentucky,” as Arden puts it, delivering much-needed food, water and other essential supplies. But last Saturday, their day took an interesting and unexpected turn, as Arden wrote in an email:

Al Irwin, left, and Arden Tohill – Photo credit: Jim McIntyre/American Red Cross

Interesting day, Saturday. On the way back to the kitchen, we were among the first to come upon a traffic accident. Al (Irwin) is still a licensed EMT, so there was no question about stopping.

Some firemen, who were nearby doing wellness checks, heard the crash and came flying on their 4-wheelers. The only problem was that they weren’t packed for a medical situation. One of them saw that I had my nitrile serving gloves on and asked if we had any more so I ran back to the ERV, grabbed the box of gloves we had just purchased and the first aid kit for the minimal supplies we had. 

After they got the passenger out, Al was holding her head steady to prevent spinal injury until an ambulance arrived with a collar. Al had me take over while he went on to something else.  In a few minutes a doctor who was out running household errands popped in to examine the passenger.  He asked if anyone happened to have a small flashlight so that he could check pupil reaction . Of course I had one, so I passed head-holding to a fireman and dug the light out.

After they finally got the driver out and boarded, we started passing out water to the first responders.

Al Irwin and Arden Tohill preparing to distribute meals to residents in flood-stricken Kentucky at Carr Creek Elementary school in Knott County – Photo credit: Remy Kennedy/American Red Cross

We don’t know the condition of the passenger, but we do know that Arden Tohill and Al Irwin are two talented, dedicated volunteers and true humanitarians, as illustrated by the account above. We are grateful for their service to the Red Cross.

Editor’s note: As of Monday, August 8, more than 430 trained Red Cross disaster workers were on the ground in Kentucky helping to provide a safe place to stay, food to eat, critical relief supplies and emotional support for those affected by this tragedy. Volunteers are also replacing prescription medications, eyeglasses or critical medical equipment, like canes and wheelchairs, which were left behind in the rush to get to safety.

  • Sunday night, the Red Cross and our partners provided comfort and care for almost 500 residents in numerous shelters across Eastern Kentucky. In the last week, the Red Cross and our partners have provided a total of more than 4,500 overnight stays for residents forced to leave their homes.
  • With the support of local partners, the Red Cross has helped to provide some 56,000 meals and snacks to people in need. In addition, we’ve given out thousands of critical relief items to nearly 800 households.

Multiple weekend fires force dozens to flee their homes

Red Cross disaster workers respond to 17 calls for help

85 residents of Northern Ohio – including more than two-dozen children – spent part of the weekend seeking shelter, following 17 separate calls for assistance due to home fires. 

One of the first calls on Friday night came from Strongsville, where fire affected 18 units of an apartment building complex.

Disaster Program Specialist Jessi Graber responding to fire in Strongsville

Multiple family fires also occurred over the weekend in Elyria, Bowling Green, Rossford (Wood County) and Toledo, where three multiple family fires occurred.

Red Cross volunteer disaster responder Bob Osicki, also in Strongsville

“It’s important for people to use extreme caution if using space heaters or other alternatives to help heat their homes,” said Mike Parks, Regional CEO, American Red Cross of Northern Ohio.  “While we don’t determine the cause of these fires, we do know that alternative heating sources are a major contributor to home fires this time of year.”

Red Cross volunteers who responded to these fires provided the affected residents with more than $20,000 collectively in immediate financial assistance, to help these families find a safe and warm place to stay, get something to eat, replace clothing or fulfill other needs.

The funds are provided by generous donors, who contribute to the Red Cross disaster relief fund, to help during and after disasters big and small.

Donations to help people affected by disaster can be made here.  And to learn more about becoming a Red Cross volunteer disaster responder, visit us here.